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HRC48: HRC must adopt resolution on human rights situation in Saudi Arabia

Human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia continue to face an increasing crackdown including arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and medical and administrative neglect. The UN Human Rights Council must take action by establishing a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.

At the 48th session of the Council, ISHR together with ALQST for Human Rights and the Gulf Center for Human Rights delivered a joint statement under General Debate Item 4 highlighting the continued repression of human rights defenders and the Saudi government’s failure to respond to calls by UN Special Procedures and over 40 States at the Council in March 2019, September 2019 and September 2020.  This demonstrates its lack of political will to genuinely improve the human rights situation and to engage constructively with the Council. 

Noting that many of the women human rights defenders mentioned in previous joint statements at the Council have been released from detention, they remain subject to severe restrictions, including travel bans, work bans, or the making of public statements. Most of these defenders have closed their social media presence.

COVID-19 restrictions and the G20 Summit in November 2020 coincided with a slow down in prosecutions of those expressing peaceful opinions and a decline in the use of the death penalty. However, throughout 2021 the pace of violations has resumed. This has included fresh waves of arrests of bloggers and ordinary citizens, often followed by periods of enforced disappearance, lengthy prison terms against human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience, and abuse in prison, including deliberate medical neglect. Amnesty International has similarly reported on the increased persecution of human rights defenders following the G20 Summit. 

In addition, despite announcing the halt of the death penalty against minors, the Saudi government recently executed someone who may have been 17 at the time of the alleged offense. The number of executions in 2021 is already more than double the total figure for 2020.

During the debate under item 4, several States raised their concerns over the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. Denmark raised concerns over the persecution of civil society activists, torture and the use of the death penalty. Norway urged Saudi Arabia to protect human rights defenders, while Sweden urged Saudi Arabia to to ensure freedom of expression and assembly for all, including human rights defenders. 

ISHR also joined a statement delivered by the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, together with ALQST for Human Rights and the MENA Rights Group in the debate with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The organisations expressed their deep concern at the systematic practice of arbitrary detention of human rights defenders and peaceful dissidents in Saudi Arabia, who are subjected to persecution and prosecution only for exercising their fundamental rights and advocating for the dignity, equality and freedom of others.

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